BI and CRM for the masses

So­lu­tions need to be in­tro­duced to com­pa­nies in a dif­fer­ent way.

Finweek English Edition - - Focus On Ict - Steven Co­hen

BUSI­NESS IN­TEL­LI­GENCE (BI) and cus­tomer re­la­tion­ship man­age­ment (CRM) so­lu­tions have tra­di­tion­ally been the do­main of large en­ter­prises for the past five to 10 years. But both top­ics have now started be­ing more rel­e­vant to the SME mar­ket. SMEs have re­alised that de­riv­ing more gran­u­lar in­for­ma­tion from their fi­nan­cial sys­tems and in­ter­act­ing with their clients in a more valu­able way give them a vi­tal dif­fer­en­tia­tor in th­ese tough eco­nomic times.

The ap­proach be­ing used in in­te­grat­ing BI and CRM into the so­lu­tions SMEs make use of is dif­fer­ent to the way those so­lu­tions were po­si­tioned in the en­ter­prise sec­tor. Soft­line Pas­tel MD Steven Co­hen says if we cast our minds back to the early Nineties it’s clear why that dif­fer­ent ap­proach is be­ing taken.

“Ac­count­ing soft­ware for smaller busi­nesses only started be­com­ing avail­able in the early Nineties,” says Co­hen. “And even then those so­lu­tions were tai­lored to the tasks re­quired by ac­count­ing de­part­ments. For that rea­son it wasn’t un­com­mon for man­agers to run to their ac­counts depart­ment when­ever they needed re­ports on the com­pany’s fi­nan­cial per­for­mance.

“As that process started be­com­ing more com­mon, the next evo­lu­tion­ary step was for man­age­ment to be­come in­volved in gen­er­at­ing its own re­ports and, in turn, be­com­ing more proac­tive about how the busi­ness was run. And that’s when BI and CRM be­gan com­ing to the fore,” says Co­hen.

He says ac­count­ing sys­tems were al­ready do­ing a good enough job of run­ning the day-to-day ad­min­is­tra­tion of the com­pany and, quite sim­ply, there wasn’t very much ven­dors of those so­lu­tions could add into the mix from a func­tion­al­ity per­spec­tive.

In a man­ner of speak­ing, Co­hen says ven­dors had to be­gin build­ing BI and CRM func­tion­al­ity into their ac­count­ing so­lu­tions so they were able to jus­tify the on­go­ing ex­is­tence of their new ver­sions. “And as the mar­ket con­tin­ues down that track I be­lieve BI and CRM will be­come com­mon­place: in five years’ time ac­count­ing so­lu­tions will in­clude that ad­di­tional func­tion­al­ity by de­fault.”

While Co­hen says CRM has ex­cel­lent value to of­fer small busi­nesses it’s still a rel­a­tively hard sell. “They aren’t must-have fea­tures. The ba­sic func­tion­al­ity an ac­count­ing sys­tem of­fers is a no-brainer – but be­cause BI and CRM sim­ply make life more pleas­ant and in­sight­ful for SMEs but they won’t die without it, it’s a tougher sell.”

How­ever, Co­hen says Soft­line Pas­tel is mak­ing good head­way in that sec­tor. “Ac­count­ing soft­ware is rel­a­tively generic. But BI al­lows a busi­ness to take its re­port­ing into a new realm tai­lored to its spe­cific vertical and unique ap­proach to the mar­ket.

“BI also al­lows small com­pa­nies to be­come more creative about their ques­tion­ing or re­port­ing – and the more creative they get with that ques­tion­ing, the more valu­able in­sight they’re likely to de­rive. In much the same way, CRM al­lows a com­pany to be­come more as­tute at ser­vic­ing its cus­tomer base. It al­lows com­pa­nies to move be­yond the static or num­ber-based in­for­ma­tion that’s stored in­side their ac­count­ing sys­tems.

“It ex­tends the con­tact in­for­ma­tion stored in the ac­count­ing sys­tem and gives those re­spon­si­ble for in­ter­act­ing with cus­tomers a more per­sonal flavour to their in­ter­ac­tions. For ex­am­ple, cus­tomers’ likes and dis­likes or the work­flows they’re sub­ject to.”

As a re­sult of both top­ics be­com­ing more rel­e­vant to SMEs, ac­count­ing so­lu­tions are no longer rel­e­gated to the ac­count­ing depart­ment alone. “While the ac­count­ing depart­ment still con­trols the so­lu­tion it starts get­ting used by the MD, sales team and even the re­cep­tion­ist,” Co­hen says.

So what needs to be dif­fer­ent – be­sides price – for BI and CRM to be ap­pli­ca­ble to SMEs? Co­hen says be­cause big­ger com­pa­nies were gen­er­ally more ma­ture about how they thought about their busi­ness they were ca­pa­ble of in­vest­ing in CRM and BI so­lu­tions – not to men­tion the le­gion of con­sul­tants such a com­pany would re­quire to cus­tomise the so­lu­tions to their needs.

“Though those func­tions must ob­vi­ously be more cost ef­fec­tive when it comes to the SME mar­ket, at the same time they must be eas­ier to im­ple­ment and use, since smaller com­pa­nies don’t have the same bud­gets larger ones do.

“Lastly, BI and CRM func­tion­al­ity must be pre-merged with the com­pany’s ac­count­ing sys­tem so that cus­tomers are able to de­rive value as soon as pos­si­ble. “As ven­dors of SME so­lu­tions we must also aim to de­mys­tify the BI and CRM space,” he says.

But Co­hen ad­mits the temp­ta­tion is for the con­trary to tran­spire. “Af­ter all, where there’s mys­tery there’s mar­gin,” he chuck­les. “But se­ri­ously, those so­lu­tions can’t be com­plex. The busi­ness owner has to be­lieve it’s go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence to the com­pany’s life and the only way to con­vince him of that is to demon­strate its value.

“By show­ing them the kind of re­port­ing an ac­count­ing so­lu­tion is ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing once BI is built into it, or how the com­pany is able to more ef­fi­ciently man­age cus­tomer in­ter­ac­tions with CRM built-in, they be­gin see­ing the value,” Co­hen says.

Over the past three years us­ing that func­tion­al­ity on of­fer to more than 180 000 busi­nesses Co­hen says BI is Soft­line’s best­selling add-on mod­ule.

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